Health care is big business and that spells big opportunities for tomorrow's professionals in this field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), health care is among the largest and fastest growing industries in the nation. One of the most promising and lucrative careers within this booming sector is nurse anesthetist.
What Does a Nurse Anesthetist Do?
A nurse anesthetist is a registered nurse (RN) who has earned an additional graduate degree and certification as a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA). Nurse anesthetists support anesthesiologists, helping administer, monitor and adjust anesthesia during surgery. They also tend to patients' post-surgery needs, addressing any potential complications or side effects caused by sedation. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) notes that in some areas, particularly in rural communities, they can serve as primary anesthesia care givers.
What Are the Steps to Becoming a Nurse Anesthetist?
Certified registered nurse anesthetists begin their careers as RNs, but eventually go on to become certified in nursing anesthesiology. According to the AANA, you must complete the following steps in order to become a CRNA and maintain your licensure:
- Enroll in an accredited nursing school to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).This typically takes about four years to complete. However, those with associate degrees in nursing (ADNs) can often find ADN-to-BSN bridge programs that require fewer years of study
- Acquire licensure as a registered nurse. All states require RNs to pass a national licensing exam called the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN
- Work at least one year as an RN in an acute care setting
- Earn at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) from an accredited nurse anesthetist program. This typically takes two to three years. Nurse anesthesia graduate programs should include clinical training in local health care centers
- Pass the national nurse anesthetist certification exam
- Enroll in continuing education units (CEUs) to maintain your nurse anesthetist certification. Most states require nurse anesthetists to complete at least 40 hours of approved CEUs every two years
How to Become a Great Nurse Anesthetist
Becoming a great CRNA is a time- and labor-intensive process that calls for both hard work and determination. Ensure that the nursing schools you choose to earn your BSN and your MSN in nurse anesthesia are accredited and well-suited for your learning style. Some hybrid programs allow you to combine classroom and clinical instruction with convenient online learning, though be wary of online degree programs with little or no clinical training. Whichever program you choose, maintain good organizational skills and study habits. Don't be surprised when you're asked to work long shifts at all hours of the day and night while racking up your required clinical hours; it's important to maintain a positive attitude and excellent bedside manner even when you're worn down.
Once you've become a CRNA, it's necessary to keep up with all the new techniques and technological advancements that affect your work. You may find the continuing education units that you're required to complete to maintain licensure helpful in this regard.
CRNAs, like nursing students, must often work long and arduous shifts, so it's important that you master your stress-reduction techniques early. A healthy diet, exercise and an effort to get enough rest can help tremendously. Finally, remember that maintaining an excellent bedside manner is as important for providing quality patient care as the rest of your duties; patience and a warm smile can make all the difference to a patient.
Nurse Anesthetist Salaries and Career Outlook
As noted, a nurse anesthetist is a particular type of RN, which, the BLS notes, is one of the most in-demand occupations in the country with a projected growth in job openings of 22 percent between 2008 and 2018. The additional training CRNAs receive allows for a great deal more autonomy and responsibility than most RNs are given and the AANA reports that they are compensated accordingly. In fact, Salary.com says that, in December 2010, the middle 50 percent of CRNAs earned between $144,810 and $165,516 a year. The lower 10 percent earned $135,755 on average while the upper 10 percent exceeded $175,312.
Those who went on to become chief nurse anesthetists commanded even higher salaries. Note that nurse anesthetists generally earn significantly more than other RNs, who, according to the BLS, had an average annual salary of $66,530 in May 2009, the most recent data available.
Resources for Nurse Anesthetists